Falcons Fall As Dutchmen Rally For C'Wealth Crown

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Grantham, PA - Lebanon Valley rallied late for an upset win over Messiah College, taking a 46-43 decision to win the Commonwealth Conference Championship. The Dutchmen trailed 29-22 with 9:39 left in the second half, but fought back slowly before taking a 41-40 lead on a free-throw by Tierney Hiltz with 1:26 to play.

After the game was again tied at 41-41, Caitlin Bach scored a layup on the left side off a dish from Hitlz for a two-point lead with just 34 seconds remaining. On the Falcons' next possession, both Kira Maier and Taylor Miller missed jumpers as the Falcons were forced to foul to stop the clock.
Messiah's last chance at a game-tying shot came with just six seconds left, as Bach missed the second of two free-throws to leave the score 46-43. But the Falcons were unable to connect on the outlet pass, with the final seconds giving way to an LVC victory.
"We wanted to focus on grinding every possession, to keep fighting regardless of the score," said LVC head coach Todd Goclowski. "We were working and trusting that we would be there in the end have our chance."
Tierney Hiltz was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, as she finished with 13 points, six rebounds, and five assists. Hiltz scored nine of her 13 points in the second-half.
Saturday's finish was not the result of great shooting by either team, as LVC and Messiah shot 30.0% and 27.6% from the field, respectively. The Dutchmen made plays, however, outscoring Messiah 12-4 in the final 4:23.
The defining stretch of the game came just before that mark, as Liz Borgia hit a three-pointer to bring LVC to within 37-34 with just over five minutes to play. After a jumper by Nicky Hess put Messiah up 39-34, Kiely Chaklos hit a shot from downtown to start the Dutchmen's game-ending rally.
When LVC finally did take a lead on Hiltz's free-throw, it was their first advantage of the game; Messiah took an early 9-2 lead and led the entire way until less than 90 seconds remained.
The teams' battled through a physical—and at times sloppy—first-half. The teams even combined for two different and long scoreless streaks: one of 4:36 and another of 4:01. 
An impressive left-handed layup in transition by Chelsea Danel did put Messiah up 13-4 at the 9:38 mark, but LVC fought back. Bach completed an 8-0 run for her team as scored in the paint off a post move to make it 13-12. Nicky Hess answered for the Falcons, as she hit one of her two three-pointers to give the Falcons a 16-12 lead just before halftime.
In the second-half, Bach accounted for the game's first tie score (18-18) as she backed down Dori Gyori for a layup. Taylor Miller scored two of her four points on the next possession, however, hitting a reverse layup to start an 11-4 run for Messiah. A perfect full-court pass from Hess to Hannah Nichols put an exclamation on the stretch, with Nichols catching and finishing in transition to give the Falcons a 29-22 lead.
Unfortunately for the Falcons, their lead would not hold up. A jumper by Miller put Messiah up 37-31 with 5:31 left to play, setting up Borgia's aforementioned bucket from beyond the arc to initiate the Dutchmen's winning rally.
"When (Nichols) got that bucket to make it a seven point game, it felt larger because both teams were having trouble scoring," Goclowski said. "Liz's three was a big shot for us…and it gave us the energy on the defensive end to finish the game."
"When Borgia hit the three, that stopped our momentum a bit," Messiah head coach Mike Miller said, referring to that momentum-swinging stretch by LVC. "And then Chaklos hit a three—a shot that she doesn't make too often—and that turned into a big stretch for them. They made plays, as opposed to us not making shots that we're used to making."
The Falcons' shooting woes were not isolated to either position on the court. Dori Gyori and Kira Maier combined for just 5-17 shooting, while Danel, Miller, and Hess shot just 9-35. Messiah connected on just three of 14 attempts from three-point range (21.4%), well below their season average of 33.2%.
Gyori finished with 13 points for Messiah, though six of those points—her only six points in the first-half—came in the first 3:09 of play. Maier and Danel each scored nine points, with Maier collecting a team-high 11 rebounds.
"I thought we prepared well for today," Miller said. "We concentrated on our own play because we wanted to play freely out there. I thought we did play freely, and I'm proud of our girls for that. We just couldn't make plays at the end to finish it off."
Bach collected 13 points and 13 rebounds for LVC to complement Hiltz's strong game. Chaklos scored nine points, though she shot just 2-9 from the field.

The decision moves both teams to 23-4, with LVC receiving the automatic qualifier into NCAA Championships Tournament. Messiah will hope to receive an at-large bid into the Tournament. If they are to do so, it will be the Falcons' 14th consecutive trip to the Championships event.
The NCAA Selection Show for the women's basketball tournament will air at 2:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 25. Fans are encouraged to follow GoMessiah.com for the selection show link.